All Book Reviews

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool
Oster, Emily
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier.

Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely comes down to broad Gaussian distributions. That is, there are no correlations between two drastically different approaches on the outcome of the child’s health or future behavior. This is undoubtedly a relief to know, if for no other reason than to give me free rein to parent as I see fit (with my wife's input, of course).

One mantra that Cribsheet seems to reiterate is that—even if data supports a beneficial outcome—if the parents’ mental health issues and/or anxiety increase because their lifestyle cannot support it is not worth the small percentage points of benefit to the child. Basically, the studies that do support something like breastfeeding show that these desired outcomes are in the short term and won’t harm the child if this particular parenting method isn’t chosen. While the data absolutely supports one or two items of interest, everything else is so loosely researched as to prove nothing in one way or another.

A great book about statistical rigor in childhood studies, I give Cribsheet 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Assignment in Eternity
Heinlein, Robert
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Back in college, my first introduction to Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land. I had to read this book for my “Science in Literature” course, and I found it moderately interesting. Since then, I’ve read other Heinlein books like Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I didn’t realize how dedicated Heinlein was to some of his “supernatural” themes until I read Assignment in Eternity. Sure, most authors will have some concept or idea that they like to revisit. Still, the fact that a majority of Assignment in Eternity ’s included short stories deal in some way with “superhumans” must mean something.

The whole concept of ESP and “evolved” humans isn’t interesting to me since I don’t think there’s much that can be done with the concept. While Stranger in a Strange Land covered most of the bases, Assignment in Eternity doesn’t really expand the ideas any further. If anything, Stranger in a Strange Land was the culmination of Heinlein’s obsession with this topic. I think, in the end, the whole idea of telepathy and other mind powers isn’t science fiction as much as the ideas explored by Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov.

Because Heinlein could fill a book with short stories mostly centering on this theme speaks volumes about the overall topics in his writing. If you’re into this kind of story, then Assignment in Eternity is an excellent addition to the classic that is Stranger in a Strange Land. If anything, Heinlein is consistent in his style, even if it makes short stories like this somewhat repetitive to the other stories and books he’s written. Like other short story collections, I would have liked to see some more variety in what was presented here, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.

More of the same Heinlein, just in smaller chunks, I give Assignment in Eternity 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
William Shakespeare's The Force Doth Awaken
Doescher, Ian
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate.

I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy anyway. If anything, I’m out a little over an hour of my time to listen to it (since I listen at 2x speed). I did appreciate that Chewie finally received the internal monologue that R2-D2 originally had since these un-translatable individuals still have something to add. I was, however, disappointed that BB-8 didn’t have the same treatment.

One of the other factors with this “translation” that I wasn’t too keen on was the meta aspect that kept winking at the reader and saying, “See? Do you get that reference?” I understand that everything exists in the Star Wars universe, but I think most people who will pick up this book will already know those references anyway and don’t need the coy allusions to other parts of the series. Of course, I’ll still end up listening to the rest of these when I can get them from my library, but The Force Doth Awaken felt like a low point (at least until I get into the prequels).

An almost too modern and meta Shakespearean adaptation, I give The Force Doth Awaken 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Skull Throne
Brett, Peter V.
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

You’d think a book with (what I assume is) Renna Bales (nee Tanner) on the cover would follow her and the group of people she’s traveling with. You’d think a book titled “The Skull Throne” would spend a lot of time addressing the now-empty Skull Throne. Instead, we only got brief mentions of these two sub-plots. While I’m happy that the latter didn’t have many pages dedicated to it, I’m disappointed that the former was addressed for only a few scant sections at the beginning and end. Instead, the majority of this book spent time in places that didn’t advance the overall story at all.

Having read all the books (and the “3.5” novella) up until now, my concerns that arose during Messenger’s Legacy seem to have materialized. Sure, I do enjoy following the three main characters from The Warded Man , but there were certainly moments where I thought I was reading something from the Song of Ice and Fire series than The Demon Cycle series. This might be high praise for some, but I felt George R.R. Martin’s series was a little bloated and too concerned with relationship drama than actual dragons.

Additionally, I’m still having trouble caring about the Krasians. The fact that there are so many terms and titles for everyday things and people makes it confusing to follow at times. I understand its origins in Middle-eastern culture, but at some point, it goes too far (xkcd had a comic about the number of made-up words in a fantasy book reducing its quality). The culture clash between the Krasians and everyone else has persisted for three books now, and it’s quite tiring to keep highlighting how different and backward their thinking it sometimes. I can only hope we get to see some demon battles in The Core since this book left me unsatisfied.

A weak link that could have spent more time on more exciting subplots, I give The Skull Throne 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
Mortal Engines
Reeve, Philip
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give it a chance. Even if I don’t expect there to be movies to finish out the adaptation of the quartet of books, I can definitely look forward to exploring the rest of this series to have my world-building needs satiated in the next volume.

While the young protagonists were flat and singularly minded, some of the adults had enough meat on them to make their actions reasonable and realistic. Sure, there are always going to be clichés in stories meant for younger audiences. However, I don’t usually tolerate character-based clichés as much as I do plot-based ones. And while the writing certainly had a creative bent to its vocabulary, it became tiresome having to sit through it for a whole book. Purple prose is good in short bursts, but too much of a good thing can ruin the immersion of the reader.

A fantastic idea with semi-flat characters and far too flowery language, I give Mortal Engines 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Alvin Journeyman
Card, Orson Scott
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

With this fourth book in the Alvin Maker series, I’m starting to see why a
lot of writers like to stick to trilogies. If anything, I think most readers
can probably skip this volume and move on to the next one because there
wasn’t anything too new or interesting that happened in it. If anything, it
was a re-hash of events in the previous book with a few new characters added
to it. I will concede that Alvin Journeyman did finally develop a fitting
antagonist for Alvin. Still, so few pages were dedicated to this sub-plot
that I’m wondering if it should have just been pulled out and made into its
own novella that would span the gap between book three and book five.

Once again, the strength of the series as a whole carries through here, and
some loose character arcs are tied up before moving on to more important
things. However, spending the majority of the book hashing over what astute
readers (or even readers who were moderately paying attention in the last few
books) already knew as truth just to confirm to the rest of the characters
around Alvin that he wasn’t lying seemed like a waste of words.

If anything, using the delay in Alvin’s journey to develop Calvin’s
“making” abilities did provide a bit of contrast between the two and will
likely pay off when the forces of good and evil clash in future volumes. I
still appreciate the way Orson Scott Card integrates actual history with a
fantasy explanation, though. Despite the missed step here, I’ll continue
with the series to see how it resolves. At the very least, volumes like this
show me why it’s not as notable as the Ender Saga, which was a solid four
book set (that’s really just three books with the third split into two
parts).

A weak link in the Alvin Maker series, I give Alvin Journeyman 3.0 stars out
of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Book Review: War Girls
Onyebuchi, Tochi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Onyii and Ify live as sisters in an all-girls refugee/war camp on the edge of the Redlands, an area riddled with radiation from a long-ago nuclear disaster. Nigeria, their home, is in the midst of a civil war. Children are conscripted as soldiers and pilots for mechanized warrior robots. Onyii and Ify are separated, and as truths are revealed to each of them, they must decide where, and with whom, their loyalties lie all while trying not to die a terrible death in a bloody civil war.

Going into this, I knew nothing about the Nigeria - Biafran civil war of the 1960s, which is at the heart of this novel. Personally, I enjoy learning about parts of history that I know nothing about (I typically don’t gravitate to one of the 1,983,784,767 WWII novels, for example), and I really enjoyed the unique setting. The book is set in the future, and the futuristic elements really added a lot to the plot and were well employed by the author. Onyii, for example, is an Augment, meaning that she’s a little bit of a bionic woman. While I didn’t really relate to the main characters, I did really like them. They didn’t always make the best decisions, but their decisions made sense to their characters and their respective arcs. They were easy to root for. Really, my only complaint was that it felt overlong, and I skimmed through some of the battle scenes, but that’s more a matter of personal preference.

TLDR: Looking for something to read after Children of Blood and Bone? You’ve found your next great Nigerian inspired read! (And, honestly, if you haven’t read Children of Blood and Bone but it’s on your TBR, I’d suggest replacing it with War Girls, which is a much more original, engaging book). For readers who like apocalyptic novels and futuristic sci-fi battles. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Razorbill for the eARC which I received in exchange for an honest review. War Girls will be available for purchase on 15 October, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
I'm Trying to Love Math
Barton, Bethany
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Using abundant humor, Bethany Barton makes this book about math interesting to all. Her facts and explanations show how math is used in our everyday lives and why it’s important. Math is used all around the world and even in space. We used math when we bake cookies, make music, and explore. It’s part of many of the patterns we see in nature. Since math is part of so many of the things you already love, you may just already love math.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Mysterious Experiments
Claybourne, Anna
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

There’s nothing magical about these experiments – just everyday science. Experiment with raisins, sugar cubes, eggs, and more. You can just use simple materials that you already have around the house to test things out and learn something too.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Book Review: Nowhere Boy
Marsh, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Fantastic! Ahmed is a 14 year old Syrian refugee that has been orphaned and left with no money and no place to go. He ends up in Brussels and hides in the wine cellar of a house. Max, whose family lives in the house, discovers him and they strike up a friendship. What follows is a story of loyalty, determination, and desperation. The ending almost made me cry. The book brings up questions about whether or not countries should accept refugees and how to determine who is good and who is a terrorist. I definitely recommend it to everyone, as the plight of middle eastern refugees should be known to all.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Rethinking Positive Thinking
Oettingen, Gabriele
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In her book, Ms Oettingen teaches readers how to use the science of positive thinking to their advantage. After years of research, she has found that mere "positive thought" does not produce optimal results for people's lives. Instead, a specifically targeted approach to positive thought and positive action is best. This is what she teaches readers. I would recommend this book to people seeking to improve their lives through targeted approaches of thought and action. Readers 16 and up are appropriate.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D
Ten Women who changed Science and the World
Whitlock, Catherine Evans, Rhodri
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In her book, "10 Women Who Changed Science and the World", Catherine Whitlock authors the biography of ten women who were deeply influential in science. For each woman, she writes a biography of their life and what significant contribution they made to their field. This book is well-written and informative, and neither too long nor too short for each woman's biography. I would recommend this book for readers of ages 13 and up. This book should interest those interested in women's contributions to science.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D
Shark
MacQuitty, Miranda
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In her book about sharks, Ms Macquitty teachers readers all about the fascinating salt-water creatures. The book is well done for young ages, with plenty of interesting facts. There are also many pictures to illustrate her points. Well researched and informative, this book is sure to engage young readers.
I would recommend this book to any young readers from 5 through Elementary school. Any children fascinated with sharks and wishing to learn more will be pleased by this read.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D
Ask A Science Teacher
Scheckel, Larry
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In his book "Ask a Science Teacher", Larry Scheckel lists 250 science questions and answers them all in detail for readers. Each series of questions is divided under sections. For example, there is a section about Sound and Music and a section about Chemistry. He spans a broad range of scientific topics, from biology in the question "How many cells are in the body?" to history of science in question "Did Issac Newton develop calculus?" Mr. Scheckel answers the questions thoroughly with interesting detail. He engages readers. I would recommend this book to anyone with science interests and questions. This book is appropriate for ages high school and up.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D
The Tapping Solution
Ortner, Jessica
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In her book “The Tapping Solution For Weight Loss and Body Confidence”, Jessica Ortner guides readers through a step-by-step process for not only losing weight but also for increasing self-compassion and thus increasing self-confidence and self-esteem. Tapping, also known as EFT (emotional freedom technique), is a method of lowering cortisol levels in the body. By tapping on specific meridian acupressure points on the face, neck, and underarms while describing the issue or stressor, it has been scientifically proven that the brain re-wires and cortisol reduces. In her book, Ms Ortner not only teaches readers how to tap in order to aid weight loss, since low cortisol levels have been linked with greater weight-loss success. She also helps readers to learn how to be more self-compassionate in their weight-loss journey, thus decreasing stress and increasing self-confidence.
I enjoyed this book for its positive message to women to be confident in who they are at this and every moment of life, even within the challenges we face. I would recommend this book to readers from ages 16 and up, especially young women or women looking to increase their self-compassion.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca D
Pride
Zoboi, Ibi Aanu
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A modern take on Jane Austen's "Pride and Predjudice", "Pride" focuses on Brooklyn proud Zuri who writes poetry and hates seeing her neighborhood change. Zuri deals with the introduction of a rich new family to her block and the subsequent gentrification of her neighborhood. With themes of romance, reluctance, and pessimism, "Pride" makes for an interesting exploration of modern romance. Along with that, there is an interesting insight on the idea of what a neighborhood is: people you know, places where you know what to expect, and the true feeling of home. "Pride" is a great read for those who want a romance but also relate to the struggles of high school and family as a teenager.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K
Mirage
Daud, Somaiya
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Mirage", an immersive and captivating book, tells the story of a girl stolen from her home to become identical stand-in for an intergalactic princess with a target on her back. The main character Amani is a simple and traditional girl who is kidnapped and tortured for the soul fact that she looks exactly like the hated princess of the galaxy. An incredibly intriguing story about self, love, and revolution, "Mirage" captures the conflict of learning to love someone you shouldn't and coming to love the person who enslaved you. "Mirage" incorporates South-East Asian culture along with subtly hinting at the tensions between Europeans and South-East Asians. A beautiful book, "Mirage" is certainly a great read if you want a beautiful and empowering story.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K
The Storm
Bergin, Virginia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Sequel to "H2O", "The Storm" continues the story of a newly distopian Earth where the rain kills. This book focuses on the bonds of family in crisis, or lack thereof, and the pursuit of survival. Like "H2O" I would call "The Storm" a dystopian thriller with a hint of romance. Not only are all the characters in peril, but they are on their own without any governmental aid.

Truly a fascinating story that will make you uneasy around water.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K
Nowhere But Here
McGarry, Katie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Seventeen year old Emily lives a life full of curiosity. Curiosity of her biological father and his whereabouts. Curiosity of her father's motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror. Her curiosity overcomes her and she agrees to an extended summer vacation to visit her father and her relatives she has never met before. While with her father she becomes intrigued with her fathers motorcycle club, and the young and gorgeous boy OZ whose apart of it. They lead a forbidden romance filled with adventure and love, but when a rival club comes to town will it destroy their future plans, or is their love strong enough to overcome challenges? I adored this book, its twist and turns kept me glued to the page and urged me to read the sequels. The danger mixed with the romance was a brilliant way to keep readers interested.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Madison S
Everblaze
Messenger, Shannon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Everblaze, is awesome! This is one of my favorite books in the series, with all the action.
If you like Fitzphie, this will be one of your favorite books too! Through this book, we have to make BIG decisions, escape danger, help the city, and have tons of action packed moments! No inappropriate language or content.

Reviewer's Name: Aubrey S

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